About William Blake

Born 28 November 1757. Died 12 August 1827. Lived all his life in London, apart from 3 years in Felpham, a little village on the southern coast near Bognor Regis

Father a haberdasher, selling gloves and stockings and such in Soho

When he was 4, he had his first vision, and screamed when he saw God thrust His head through a window

When he was 8, he was walking on Peckham Rye in south London and saw “a tree filled with angels, bright angelic wings bespangling every bough like stars”

Trained as an engraver, and his master, James Basire, sent him to sketch all the monuments in Westminster Abbey

Was of the tradesmen’s class – between working and middle class. Not poor, but never well off either. Never owned property

Made his living primarily from doing commercial engravings illustrating others’ writing. Wrote, designed, engraved and printed his own books but sold very few, usually to friends

Not well-known in his lifetime. Would be astonished at his fame now

Best-known writings are Songs of Innocence and of Experience, and the poem “Jerusalem” from his epic poem Milton

“Jerusalem” was set to music by Hubert Parry in 1916, and is the UK’s most popular hymn, though Blake never intended for it to be a hymn. Most of the British population has sung “Jerusalem” at English weddings, cricket or rugby matches

Made several misjudged commercial decisions that were a disaster to his finances and reputation. For instance, he spent 2 years working on 537 illustrations to accompany an edition of Edward Young’s poem “Night Thoughts” without secure knowledge that they would be used. In the end only 4* were published, and Blake had been out of circulation as an engraver for so long that he was no longer offered other commissions

Kept a notebook where he made sketches and drafted some of his most famous poems, such as "The Tyger" and "London." The British Library owns it and has made it available to look at online. It is totally cool. Have a look!

Met Catherine Boucher on the rebound from another woman. He asked her if she pitied him, and when she said yes, he replied, “Then I love you,” and married her

They had no children

They had a long and happy marriage, though there are also hints in Blake’s poems that he may have been with other women, and of Catherine’s jealousy

Grew poorer over the years, and was living in one room off the Strand at the end of his life. Was singing as he died

Buried in Bunhill Fields cemetery, as are his parents, brothers and wife. The exact location of his grave has recently been calculated, though not yet officially acknowledged

• For more information about Blake, the most comprehensive website is www.blakearchive.org